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Performance and operational characteristics of a

hybrid vehicle powered by fuel cells and supercapacitors
Paul Rodatz, Olivier Garcia, Lino Guzzella
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)

Felix Büchi, Martin Bärtschi, Akinori Tsukada, Philipp Dietrich,

Rüdiger Kötz, Günther Scherer, Alexander Wokaun
Paul Scherrer Institute, Villigen, Switzerland

Copyright © 2003 Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc.

ABSTRACT in automotive applications, where the pressure of costs is

much more severe. Furthermore, the reduction of volume
The paper presents experimental results of a fuel cell and weight are at the center of ongoing research. Most
powered electric vehicle equipped with supercapacitors. often these demands can only be satisfied at the expense
This hybrid vehicle is part of an ongoing collaboration of efficiency or other parameters. In the automotive
between the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI, Switzerland), the application the PEFC has to compete against the internal
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ), and several combustion engine, which has a power density in the range
industrial partners. It is equipped with a fuel cell system of 1 kW/kg. This value is still hard to meet with a fuel cell
with a nominal power of 48 kW and with supercapacitors propulsion system.
that have a storage capacity of 360 Wh. Extensive tests
have been performed on a dynamometer and on the road PEFCs have a substantially higher part-load efficiency than
to investigate the operating ability. The highlights of these internal combustion engines. As passenger vehicles are
tests were the successful trial runs across the Simplon mostly operated under part-load conditions the use of
Pass in the Swiss Alps in January 2002. PEFCs permits significantly lower fuel consumption. The
high torque output of electric motors represents a further
The fuel cell system consists of an array of six stacks with advantage of fuel cell propulsion systems. As electric
125 cells each and an active area of 200 cm2. The stacks motors offer a high torque output even at low speeds, fuel
are electrically connected as two parallel strings of three cell vehicle have a remarkably good acceleration behavior.
stacks each in series in order to match the voltage Combined with an electrical storage device (such as
requirement of the powertrain. The reactant gases and the batteries or supercapacitors) at least part of the braking
cooling liquid are fed in parallel through a manifold. energy can be recuperated, which leads to a further
reduction in fuel consumption.
The supercapacitors are sized for peak power levelling to
assist the fuel cell during hard acceleration. Moreover, the In the last decade a variety of demonstration vehicles have
supercapacitors are used to store the energy obtained from been presented by the major car manufacturers.
regenerative braking and serve to optimize the vehicle DaimlerChyrsler has been playing an important role in the
efficiency. research of fuel cell powered vehicles, as their prototype
series has already reached the fifth generation with the
Polarization curves, efficiency data of the fuel cell system Necar 5. But manufacturers such as Ford, GM, Toyota,
and fuel consumption data from the New European Driving Nissan, Honda and many others as well have made
Cycle are presented. The transient behavior of the fuel cell considerable progress in their efforts toward mass
system and its influence on the performance of the vehicle producing fuel cell cars in the near future (e.g. [1]).
are analyzed.
Nevertheless, numerous problems have to be solved yet
INTRODUCTION before an attractive fuel cell powered vehicle will be
available on the market. The objective of this work was to
In the past Polymer Electrolyte Fuel Cells (PEFC) were build an experimental fuel cell vehicle that can be used to
exclusively used in aerospace or military applications. The explore the performance of new materials and system
demands on PEFCs in those fields differ greatly from those architectures, hence giving insights for further

developments. Fig. 2 shows the configuration of the powertrain. The
vehicle is powered by an AC motor with a permanent power
In the two sections following this introduction the vehicle output of 45 kW, a peak power output of 75 kW, and a
concept and the fuel cell system setup, respectively, are maximum torque of 255 Nm (all values apply to an input
presented. Some general observations concerning the fuel voltage of 280 V). The input voltage of the motor inverter is
cell system and results from experiments performed on a kept at a constant high voltage, thereby assuring the
dynamic test bench are discussed in the fourth section. highest possible motor torque and good efficiency over the
The fifth section titled vehicle performance is divided into whole speed range. Fuel cell and supercapacitors are
three subsections. First, the transient vehicle behavior is connected to a DC link by means of DC-DC converters [2].
analysed. Next the in-vehicle performance of the fuel cell A supervisory controller is used to actively regulate the
system is presented and, finally, results from drive cycle power flow between motor inverter, fuel cell and
tests are shown. The conclusion section sums up the supercapacitors. A one-step transmission without a clutch
insights gained in course of this project. completes the powertrain.


With the knowledge gained from a small pilot system (less

than 10 kW), the test vehicle (see Fig. 1) was equipped in =

early 2002. It is based on a Volkswagen Bora (a 5-seat =

sedan vehicle known in the U.S. as VW Jetta) and was

= =
modified to accommodate the new powertrain. The test Fuel Cell DC Link E-Motor
vehicle is equipped with a hybrid powertrain in which the
fuel cell acts as the primary power source. The
supercapacitors supplement the fuel cell with enough Auxiliary
instantaneous power to achieve good driving performance Units
and allow the capture of regenerative braking energy. Fig. 2: Outline of powertrain

Two 26-liter tanks store the hydrogen at a pressure of up to

350 bar. This amounts to roughly 1.05 kg of hydrogen,
which is equivalent to about 4 liters of gasoline. The vehicle
has a range of 50 to 100 km depending on the drive cycle.
The total weight of the test vehicle amounts to roughly 2000

Supervisory Control–A predefined energy management is

used to control the energy flows between fuel cells,
supercapacitors and electric motor. It serves to optimize
these flows with regard to the consumption of hydrogen.
The requirements on an ideal energy management are
numerous, with the main three being the following:
Fig. 1: Test vehicle “Hy.Power”
1. Fulfill all power demands
2. Recuperate as much braking energy as possible
Supercapacitors are electrical storage devices with a high 3. Ensure minimum fuel consumption
power density. Their energy density is up to one hundred
times higher than that of conventional capacitors, and their Under certain circumstances these demands are mutually
power density is up to ten times higher than that of conflicting. To achieve good acceleration, the fuel cells
batteries. With their wide operating temperature range and have to be assisted by the supercapacitors, which therefore
their long lifetime, supercapacitors are the short-term should be fully charged and thus cannot absorb any
storage elements of choice. Jointly developed by PSI and recuperated energy. The conflicts are resolved with the
Montena SA, the supercapacitors installed in the vehicle help of different priorities assigned to the various demands,
each have a rated capacitance of 1600 F with a rated the highest priority being the satisfaction of the power
voltage of 2.5V. Altogether, the 282 pair-wise connected demand at all times.
supercapacitors provide a storage capacity of 360 Wh and
are able to provide 50 kW for a duration of roughly 15 s. A number of security aspects have to be considered at the
The maximum voltage of the supercapacitor module is 360 highest priority level. These include:
V. An active voltage-balancing unit mounted on the
supercapacitors serves to balance the cell voltage inside • supercapacitors must not be overcharged
the module and to avoid the overcharging of specific cells. • supercapacitors may not be discharged below 25% of

maximum energy storage capacity (because of deterio- FUEL CELL SYSTEM
rating efficiency)
• charging and discharging currents of supercapacitors The direct-hydrogen fuel cell system can be divided into
may not exceed certain limits to avoid overload of three main subsystems according to the fluid that is
power electronics handled:
• the current drawn from the fuel cells may not exceed
the current that the fuel cells are able to supply (impor- • air subsystem: supply of the process air at the required
tant during warm-up and fast load changes) pressure, flow rate, temperature, and humidity
• H2 subsystem: supply of hydrogen at the required pres-
Any energy management will result in a compromise sure and flow rate
between good acceleration and yielding high recuperation • cooling subsystem: guarantee adequate cooling of fuel
of braking energy. Based on the assumption that with cell stacks and ensure small temperature gradient
increasing vehicle speed the need for strong acceleration across stacks
decreases and the amount of energy that can be
recuperated increases, the following energy management System Components–The air subsystem consists of a
may be designed. At low vehicle speeds (e.g., below 60 compressor, a humidifier, and a pressure control valve. The
km/h) the supercapacitors should be charged to a high compressor is integrated into a feedback loop containing a
degree, whereas with increasing speed they are flow meter and a PI controller which regulates the air flow.
discharged gradually to allow the recuperation of as much Water is injected into the pressure side of the compressor
braking energy as possible. The exact gradients are a to cool down the hot air to cell temperature. As a desirable
function of the power drawn by the electric motor. side effect, the air humidity is also increased to the benefit
of the stack operation [4].
Only the desired fuel cell power calculated by the
supervisory controller is sent to the DC-DC converter as a The hydrogen subsystem has to supply enough fuel to the
reference value. The fuel cell DC-DC converter transfers stacks under all operating conditions. Furthermore, water
the requested power PFC from the fuel cell to the DC link. droplets from the anode side of the cells have to be
The supercapacitor DC-DC converter controls the voltage removed so as not to block the reaction sites. The hydrogen
of the DC link to its nominal value. Hence the difference supply subsystem is a closed circuit. It is pressure
between the motor inverter power PD and the fuel cell regulated and the hydrogen influx depends only on the
power PFC is transferred to/from the supercapacitors. The pressure drop in the stacks caused by the depletion of
inverter power PD may be restricted by the supervisory hydrogen due to the electrochemical reaction.
controller if it exceeds the momentary maximum combined
output of the fuel cell and the supercapacitors. Similarly, Satisfactory dynamics of the fuel cell power output require
during braking the amount of regenerative braking may be a supply of excess hydrogen to the stacks. An ejector is
limited, depending on the state of charge of the used to recirculate the excess hydrogen and thus to
supercapacitors. This mode of operation ensures the power prevent wasting any hydrogen to the surrounding.
balance between all components while keeping the DC link Experiments have shown that a shock wave generated
voltage very stable. across a ventilation valve induces a temporarily increased
influx of hydrogen in the fuel cell flow field. An additional
For further information about the supervisory controller, the benefit is that the diffusion layer situated between the flow
interested reader is referred to reference [3]. channel and the membrane electrode assembly (MEA) is
dynamically inflected by the shock wave which causes any
The control algorithms are centrally managed by a liquid water droplets that may have formed inside the fuel
dSpace™ MicroAutoBox (MABX) 1401/1504. It has a cell to be dispersed. Furthermore, the liquid particles are
Motorola™ PowerPC 603e running at 200 MHz with a slave blown out from the fuel cell, allowing for the delivery of
processor to handle the digital I/O units. Matlab/Simulink™ additional hydrogen and thus preventing reactant starvation
is used to program the control algorithms. Logical in parts of the cell. The shock waves are generated with a
sequences were programmed with the help of the Matlab solenoid valve and a vacuum vessel. Similarly, if the
toolbox Stateflow™. Euler’s method was chosen as solver pressure inside the vessel is higher than the pressure in the
with a fixed step size of 5 ms. fuel cell, shock waves above the system pressure are
induced. A detailed description of this procedure may be
The MABX has only a limited number of I/O units. found in [5].
Therefore, the communication between the sensors and
the MABX, as well as the communication to the actuators is The closed cooling loop includes a variable-speed electric
handled by a CAN-Bus. For this purpose the highly flexible pump and an air-water heat exchanger with two stepwise
WAGOTM 750 CANopen series is installed, which is a variable-speed fans. Since the cooling media is de-ionized
modular I/O system. Modules are available for almost every water, special precautions have to be taken to prevent
type of sensor signal or actuator output and the freezing. Additionally, the low operating temperature of the
configuration can be expanded easily by adding additional fuel cell stacks and the limited frontal area of the vehicle
elements. create major problems for heat rejection, especially at
higher ambient temperatures. parts such as screws, springs, and tie rods, all parts were
individually designed.
Fuel Cell Stack–Adequate performance under conditions of
an automotive application, low degradation over time and The six stacks are electrically connected as two parallel
the possibility for optimized preparation procedures are the strings of three stacks each in series in order to match the
aims that have guided the selection process of the voltage requirement of the powertrain. The reactant gases
electrochemical components. Commercially available and the cooling liquid are fed in parallel through a manifold
membranes (Nafion 112, DuPont) and electrodes (ELAT, E- plate. The parallel arrangement of six stacks requires the
Tek) were evaluated and the respective preparation and equal distribution of the reactant flow across 19500
assembly procedures were developed. The bipolar plate channels (6 stacks * 125 cells per stack * 26 flow channels
(BIP) is a multifunctional part, which represents the largest per cell). The challenge of this task is demonstrated by the
volumetric part of the stack. The BIP has to distribute the measurement results of a 100-cell stack shown in Fig. 4. At
air and hydrogen to the membrane-electrode-assembly approximately 35 min. the hydrogen stochiometry was
(MEA), support the cooling of the MEA, prevent the mixing reduced to 1.1. Even though 10% excess hydrogen was fed
or leaking of the different media and conduct the current to the stack, a number of cells experience a steep voltage
between electrochemical cells. A new bipolar plate was drop. At 39 min. the hydrogen flow was set to the original
developed in order to reduce volume and weight. During high stochiometry and all cells recovered.
the design phase, special attention was paid to the
optimization of the manufacturing process of the bipolar 1.5


2-Cell Voltages [V]

The new components were tested in a single cell with less
than 100 W output. Single cells were then stacked in series 1.2
through the optimized bipolar plate to form multi-kW stacks.
The scale-up from a single cell to a 125-cell stack was
realized with only small deviations among the stacks. Six 1.0

stacks were assembled to an array in order to generate a 0.9

power output of several tens of kW. This modularity of a fuel 0.8
cell system, however, also has certain disadvantages. The
main disadvantage is the large number of parts that are 0.7
30 32 34 36 38 40
needed for powerful systems. The array of six stacks
shown in Fig. 3, contains more than 5000 parts. Most of Time [min]
these parts had to be handled, prepared, checked and
finally assembled individually. Except for a few standard Fig. 4: Effect of low hydrogen stochiometry on cell voltages. Every
line shows the voltage over two cells of a 100 cell stack. At
about 35 min. the stochiometry was reduced to 1.1.


The standard test conditions were as follows: stack

temperature 70 °C, gradient of cooling water across stacks
∆ T 5-8 °C, gas pressures 2 bar (absolute) at exit,
stoichiometries of 2 for both reactant gases, and dew
points of 55 and 50 °C for hydrogen and air, respectively.
Under these conditions each stack generated an output of
8 kW at a voltage of 0.6 V (an efficiency based on the lower
heating value (LHV) of about 50%). Therefore, the array of
six stacks should have a combined power output of 48 kW.
This power is generated if the process gas flow into the
array is distributed equally across all cells and flow
channels. Especially on the hydrogen side this is difficult to
accomplish as the hydrogen flow is considerably smaller
than the air flow.

The results from the single-stack experiments were

irreproducible with the array of six stacks due to difficulties
in the gas supply. When the power output was increased
beyond 20 kW, the voltage became unstable (see Fig. 5).
Fig. 3: Array of six stacks. The manifold plate behind the stacks
supplies media to the different stacks
Larger than expected amounts of liquid water accumulated
at the anode. Although the shock waves were very effective
in the single-stack arrangement, the complexity of the
piping caused the effect to be insufficient to remove all the with purge valve
water from the anode in the array setup. As a 120
without purge valve
consequence, the anode is increasingly flooded by water,
hydrogen is prevented from reaching the reaction site, the 110
local reactant is starved and the reaction breaks down. The
magnitude of this phenomenon rises with increasing

U [V]
current as more water is produced in the course of the
reaction. In one attempt to improve matters a purge valve
was installed through which hydrogen was continuously
purged to the surrounding. This led to an increased
hydrogen flow in the fuel cell and hence to a easing of the 80
anode flooding. Of course this improvement was gained at
the cost of efficiency as hydrogen was wasted to the 70
surrounding. 0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4
i [A/cm2]
Fig. 5 demonstrates the beneficial effect of purging. For
Fig. 6: Current-Voltage plot of experiments from Fig. 5.
these experiments the net power output of the fuel cell was Experiments with purge valve show a more stable voltage.
increased in steps of 2 kW. A minimum of 20 seconds was
allowed for the voltage to settle down after each step. The
setup without the purge valve is represented by gray lines. powertrain. The test bench by APICOM, type SM L-4,
Also shown is the setup with the purge valve (black lines). consists of an asynchronous electric motor/generator,
Every stack voltage is plotted separately, therefore each power electronics, and feedback controllers. The main test
case is displayed as a family of curves. The voltage of the bench signals are the brake torque and speed. The torque
setup without purge valve is noticeably lower and the was measured with a torque meter placed between the
difference between the two cases grows with increasing brake and the electric vehicle motor. No gearbox was
power. Furthermore, the voltage starts to oscillate above 10 mounted between the vehicle motor and the brake. The test
kW, becoming unstable at 22 kW and forcing the system to bench was operated in a speed controlled mode, causing
be turned off. any power limitations to appear in the torque profile rather
than in the speed profile.
The main objective of those tests was to demonstrate the
Voltage [V]/ Power [kW]

operativeness of the powertrain and to eliminate any

problems before its final assembly into the vehicle.
80 Ordinary drive cycles (NEDC, ftp, etc.) are not sufficiently
with purge valve
without purge valve demanding to include all the operating conditions of the
60 powertrain. Therefore, a ride across the Simplon-Pass
between Brig and Gondo in the Swiss Alps was recorded
40 using an electric vehicle with conventional batteries. Fig. 7
depicts the speed profile of the first 6 km recorded on the
20 beginning slope of the Simplon Pass, whereas Fig. 8 shows
net power the torque profile. Figs. 8 to 12 show measurement results
0 from the test bench for various net power values of the fuel
0 100 200 300 cell. Fig. 9 shows the power drawn by the motor inverter
time [s] from the DC link as well as the reference value recorded
Fig. 5: Comparison of voltage behavior for experiments with and during the drive across the Simplon Pass. Fig. 10 depicts
without purge valve. Net power was increased in steps of 2 kW. the total power output of the fuel cell. Since the total
At least 20 s was allowed for the voltage to settle down
includes the power consumed by the air compressor, the
values are higher than those of the net output. Fig. 11
shows the fuel cell voltage averaged over the two strings.
The same data is presented in Fig. 6 as a voltage-current The supercapacitor voltage is shown in Fig. 12. For the
graph. It confirms that with a purge valve the oscillation purpose of achieving a satisfactory charge/discharge
spectrum is reduced and mass transport limitations are efficiency, the supercapacitors are not discharged below
avoided. However, the purge valve can only be a temporary 25% of the maximum energy storage capacity. This
solution since hydrogen is wasted. In a future setup this corresponds to 50% of the maximum voltage, hence at 180
hydrogen should be recirculated by means of a pump. V the supercapacitors are considered empty.

Test bench–A dynamic test bench at the Measurement and This series of measurements was conducted with the
Control Laboratory of the Swiss Federal Institute of purge valve installed. Nevertheless, at a net power output
Technology Zurich was used for extensive testing of the of the fuel cell of 30 kW, the fuel cell voltage again started

7 40

Motor Speed [rpm/1000]

Fuel Cell Power [kW]

26 kW
4 28 kW
30 kW


0 0
0 100 200 300 0 100 200 300
time [sec] time [sec]

Fig. 7: Speed profile of the first 6 km of the ride across the Simplon Fig. 10: Total fuel cell power (incl. compressor power) for different net
Pass fuel cell power levels on Simplon Cycle

reference value
Fuel Cell Voltage [V]

Motor Torque [Nm]

26 kW
28 kW
30 kW
50 300

26 kW
28 kW
30 kW
0 100 200 300 0 100 200 300
time [sec] time [sec]
Fig. 8: Torque profile of the first 6 km up the Simplon Pass and the test Fig. 11: Average fuel cell voltage of the two strings for various net fuel
bench measurements for different net fuel cell power levels cell power levels on Simplon Cycle

reference value 350

Supercap Voltage [V]

26 kW
40 28 kW
Power [kW]

26 kW 30 kW

0 250
26 kW
28 kW
−20 30 kW
0 100 200 300 0 100 200 300
time [sec] time [sec]
Fig. 9: Reference value and measurement of the power drawn by the Fig. 12: Total supercapacitor voltage for different net fuel cell power
motor inverter from the DC link for different net fuel cell power levels on Simplon Cycle

to oscillate. Therefore, no experiments were performed
beyond 30 kW. Until approximately 100 sec after start of 60
experiment no or only small differences between the
experiments are visible and the torque reference is quite 50
well matched. All three experiments have in common that PEM
as soon as top speed is achieved the supercapacitors are 40

Power [kW]
near depletion. This is consistent with the strategy
described earlier in which the supercapacitors are
discharged at high velocity to accommodate for any
recuperation energy. However, at subsequent accelerations
the supercapacitors are no longer able to assist the fuel 10
cell. Therefore, the requested torque is limited by the PFC,net PSC
supervisory controller and the power drawn by the inverter 0
is restricted to the current fuel cell power output. Large
deviation from the torque reference thus cannot be 0 10 20 30
avoided. Obviously, higher levels of fuel cell net power time [sec]
attenuate this behavior.
Fig. 13: Transient response of motor inverter power PEM, fuel cell net
power PFC and supercapacitor PSC. For this experiment the fuel cell
VEHICLE PERFORMANCE net power was limited to 24 kW, the maximum fuel cell net power
gradient was set to 1 kW/s.
Transient Vehicle Behavior–The transient response of the
powertrain to a fast acceleration demand from standstill is 120
shown in Figs. 13 through 15. For this response experiment
the maximum fuel cell net power was limited to 24 kW, the
Current [A] / Voltage [V]

maximum gradient on fuel cell power was 1 kW/s, and the

supercapacitor current was restricted to 125 A. The fuel cell
power gradient is very conservative since under normal
operation it is set to 2.5 kW/s.
As evident in Fig. 15 the torque response to the driver’s
input is very fast; maximum torque is achieved in about one 40
second. With increasing motor speed the power drawn by
the inverter continues to rise up to the limit given by the 20
supervisory controller (see Fig. 13). The power is mainly
provided by the supercapacitors, as the power response 0
0 10 20 30
from the fuel cell is much slower. The supercapacitors are
time [sec]
continuously discharged, thus causing the voltage to drop.
As the supercapacitor current is already at the allowed Fig. 14: Transient response of fuel cell voltage and current. Arrows
indicate voltage undershoot and current overshoot.
limit, it cannot be increased to compensate the decreasing
voltage and to achieve a constant power output. The
inverter limit remains unchanged for a long time, as the 300
drop in supercapacitor power is made up by the fuel cell
power which is slowly building up. However, to achieve a
constant torque output, the inverter power would need to be 200
Torque [Nm]

increased. Consequently, the torque is reduced. Once the

supercapacitors are nearly depleted, the power output is 150
gradually brought down to zero and the vehicle is supplied
only from the fuel cell. Fig. 14 shows the responses of the 100
fuel cell voltage and current. Clearly visible are the
undershoot of the voltage and the overshoot of the current. 50
The voltage undershoot results from a temporary shortage
in hydrogen due to a slow response of the supply system.
The current overshoots to compensate the voltage drop as −50
the fuel cell is power controlled. Slight deviations in stack 0 10 20 30
resistance lead to varying string resistance and therefore to time [sec]
somewhat different string currents after the voltage has Fig. 15: Transient response of motor torque
settled down.

The acceleration performance of the vehicle (with a

maximum fuel cell power of 27 kW and a gradient of 1

kW/s) was measured to be 15 sec for 0-80 km/h and 50 sec contrary even slight improvements were observed. The fuel
for 0-100 km/h. The large difference between these two cell array is located in the rear of the vehicle in a closed and
values is due to the limited capacity of the supercapacitors sealed compartment which under operating conditions is
which does not allow for faster accelerations up to a speed heated up by convection from the fuel cell to the stack
of 100 km/h. A top speed of 115 km/h was achieved. temperature. The pipes and fittings leading from the
compressor and humidifier to the fuel cell are thus heated
In-Vehicle Performance–In this section, stack performance up to the stack temperature. This is in contrast to the test
and cell ageing are discussed. Plots (a) through (f) in Fig. bench setup where the stacks are surrounded by ambient
16 shows the polarization curves for all stacks after air at room temperature leading to a constant heat
different operating stages. The cell performance and the convection from the pipes to the ambient air and a
obtained data was divided into four stages, namely (1) decrease in the temperature of the air flow along the length
experiments on the dynamic test bench, (2) operation in the of the pipe. Therefore, oversaturated air enters the fuel cell
vehicle after final assembly, (3) operation in the vehicle and liquid water blocks part of the reaction site.
after some cells in stack 3 were damaged due to exposure
to negative voltage and (4) operation in vehicle after In the course of the vehicle testing a number of cells in
damaged cells were replaced. All markers represent stack 3 were severely damaged due to longtime exposure
operating points under stationary conditions and a stack to negative voltage. This failure prevented that the initial
temperature of at least 50 °C. Plot (g) shows the stack voltage was reached. The stack voltage was lower by
polarization curve averaged over all six stacks. The as much as 5 V. Nevertheless, due to the tight testing
following equation [6] was used to fit the data: schedule, the drive tests had to be continued and the failed
E = E 0 – b log i – Ri cells were ignored. Subsequent investigations revealed that
(1) several hotspots had formed in the failed cells leading to
E 0 = E r + b log i 0
holes in the membrane and even to local melting of the
where E is the cell voltage, b and i0 are the Tafel slope and bipolar plates.
the exchange current density respectively, i is the current
density, R is the ohmic resistance and Er is the reversible After the replacement of the damaged cells, the initial
potential. performance of stack 3 was restored. However, in the
course of the experiments the stack voltages began to
Table 1: Parameters of equation 1 derived from averaged stack data deteriorate. The extent of the degradation varied from stack
to stack, with stacks 3 and 6 most heavily effected.
E0 b R Explanations for this phenomenon must remain tentative
V V decade-1 Ohm cm-2 since very little information on the effects of excessive
dryness or flooding of the MEA is found in the literature. On
Testbench experiments 115.6 2.964 0.225 our testbench only a coarse filter was installed in the air
vehicle operation 115.5 2.698 0.232 intake fitting. Therefore, dirt may have been sucked into the
air system and consequently into the fuel cell where it may
vehicle operation with 113.9 2.142 0.251 lead to a contamination of sensitive areas of the MEA.
damaged stack Even though precautions have been taken to avoid
corrosion in the humidification system, the possibility of
vehicle operation after 116.6 4.259 0.180 corrosion can never be ruled out completely. Again, any
repair particles washed into the fuel cell cause contaminations of
the fuel cell. The longtime exposure to excess water or,
worse yet, flooding helps to distribute the poison to
As mentioned above the stacks are ordered as follows:
extended areas in the MEA. St-Pierre et al. reported that
stacks 1 to 3 as well as stacks 4 to 6 are connected in
contamination of the MEA by impurities led to a
series. The two strings are connected in parallel resulting in
replacement of H+ions by foreign cations and a reduced
an equal string voltage. Stacks 3 and 6 are located at the
conductivity proportional to the ionic charge [7]. The
bottom of the array, 2 and 5 in the middle and 1 and 4 at the
degradation may also result from a reduction of the catalyst
top. A manifold plate is attached to one side of the array, as
surface area, as reported by Wilson et al. [8].
shown in Fig. 3. The reactant gases and the cooling
medium are supplied to each stack from this manifold. The
Stacks 3 and 6, which are located at the bottom of the
reactant gases and the cooling are fed at the bottom of the
array, are exposed to larger amounts of water than the
manifold and have to rise the height of the array to reach
other stacks. Therefore, the degradation is most visible
the two uppermost stacks. Therefore, any flooding is most
here. However, contrarily to the observations by St-Pierre
likely to start at stacks 3 and 6. This was confirmed by the
et al. and Wilson et al. this degradation seems to stem
observation that the cells located near the entrances of
mostly from a reduced kinetic performance. During the last
stacks 3 and 6 were always among the first cells to fail.
operating stage the Tafel slope b has increased
considerably (see Table 1). Furthermore, Fig. 16 shows
The transition from the test bench to the vehicle was
that the deviation from the initial polarization curve builds
accomplished without any voltage degradation, on the
up in the region of low current density and then stays

(a) (b) (c) Testbench
115 115 115 Vehicle
Vehicle with damaged S3
110 110 110 Vehicle after repair

105 105 105

100 100 100

95 95 95

Stack 1 voltage [V]

Stack 2 voltage [V]
Stack 3 voltage [V]
90 90 90

85 85 85

80 80 80
0 0.2 0.4 0 0.2 0.4 0 0.2 0.4

Fig. 16: Polarization curves for all stacks at different operating times

(d) (e) (f) (g)
115 115 115 115

110 110 110 110

105 105 105 105

100 100 100 100

95 95 95 95

Stack 4 voltage [V]

Stack 5 voltage [V]
Stack 6 voltage [V]

90 90 90 90
average array voltage [V]

85 85 85 85

80 80 80 80
0 0.2 0.4 0 0.2 0.4 0 0.2 0.4 0 0.2 0.4
2 2 2 2
i [A/cm ] i [A/cm ] i [A/cm ] i [A/cm ]
unchanged with increasing current levels. No mass Table 2: Fuel Consumption for NEDC
transport limitations are observed in the region of high
current density. As the humidification setup is identical to lge*
kg H2
that of the other operating stages, the degradation cannot /100km
result from increased flooding. These observations thus
point to a contamination of the MEA. total consumption 0.309 10.8

consumption (excluding 0.176 6.16

Drive Cycle Tests–Fig. 17 shows measurement data from
purging loss)
the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) obtained on the
dynamometer of the Swiss Federal Laboratories for consumption (excluding 0.127 4.45
Materials Testing and Research, EMPA. The experiments purging loss and auxiliary
were conducted with a maximum fuel cell net power of 22 components)
kW and a maximum gradient of 2.5 kW/s. The solid line in
plot (a) shows the measured vehicle speed, whereas the * lge = gasoline equivalent and SOC corrected
For comparison:
target speed of the cycle is given by the thin dashed line.
BMW 7 Series Weight 1935 kg: 10..7 l/100km
The speed profile clearly shows that the NEDC is a Bora Original 55 kW Weight 1730 kg: 6.7 l/100km
succession of four identical urban sections of about 200
seconds each, followed by a highway section. As expected,
the measurement data show a recurrent system behavior CONCLUSION
for the four urban sections. For ease of reading, only the
first urban section (from 40 to 240 s) and the highway The fuel cell vehicle was intended as a demonstration
section (from 820 to 1220 s) are depicted in plot (b) as well platform to investigate new components in a realistic
as in the subsequent plots. Plot (c) shows the total DC surrounding. Complications with the peripheral equipment
power drawn by the vehicle (electric motor and other power were unavoidable, since many prototypes as well as
consumers within the vehicle). The bold dashed lines in devices that were not designed for automotive usage were
plot (c) show the upper and lower dynamic saturation points used in the vehicle. Nevertheless, the experimental vehicle
which limit the power that may be requested by the driver. was a major success. During the operation time a total
The net power output of the fuel cell system is indicated on distance of about 1000 km was travelled and the vehicle
plot (d). The net power refers to the power fed into the DC was demonstrated at numerous occasion, such as the
link. The power that is needed to supply the auxiliary Geneva Motor Show or Earth Summit in Johannesburg in
components of the fuel cell is not included in this value. The 2002.
sum of the net power and the power drawn by the auxiliary
components is the total fuel cell power, which is the product Water management proved to be a critical aspect for the
of voltage and current. The fuel cell voltage and the current efficient and stable operation of the fuel cells. Especially
density are shown in plot (e) and (f), respectively. The the removal of liquid water was a limiting factor of the fuel
supercapacitor power is shown in plot (g). Negative cell system. Condensation in the fuel cell channels, in the
supercapacitors power values indicate a power flow into the manifold plate and in the piping resulted in the
cells, which means that they are being charged. Finally, the accumulation of liquid in the fuel cell. For the present
state of charge (SOC) of the supercapacitors is depicted in experiment the removal of liquid water from the anode
plot (h). could only be accomplished by feeding the fuel cell with
additional hydrogen, which was purged to the atmosphere.
As evident from plot (a) the vehicle is able to match the
speed setpoint well, except for the final acceleration to 120 The experiments showed that poisoning of the active area
km/h. The supercapacitors were completely depleted by of the electrode is facilitated by any extended time of
that time and the vehicle is solely powered by the fuel cells. contact with liquid water. For one, impurities in the water
(Remember that 180 V is the lower operating limit of the can effectively be absorbed on the electrode and secondly,
supercapacitors, which corresponds to a 25% SOC.) The water promotes the distribution of poisons through
22 kW supplied by the fuel cells are insufficient to extended areas in the cells.
accelerate the vehicle to top speed within a reasonable
time. Clearly, the high transient and negative power The hybrid powertrain presented here allows to keep the
capabilities of the supercapacitors allow to smooth the fuel cell system comparably small, while achieving a high
power profile of the fuel cell. peak power output for acceleration. Owing to the
hybridization with the supercapacitor, the powertrain shows
Table 2 lists the fuel consumption data of the vehicle during a good dynamic behavior. If the additional hydrogen flow
the NEDC. Clearly visible is the deteriorating effect of needed for the removal of liquid water from the anode is
purging on the fuel consumption, as roughly 40% is wasted recirculated effectively, an impressive total fuel
hereby. It seems possible that in future experiments the consumption in the region of 6 to 7 l/100km for the NEDC
purged hydrogen can be recirculated by a pump with a cycle can be achieved.
minimal additional parasitic power loss.

(a) v [km/h]

100 100
v [km/h]

50 50

0 0
40 40
PDC,tot [kW]

(c) 20 20
0 0
−20 −20
30 30
PFC,net [kW]

20 20
10 10

0 0
350 350


300 300

250 250
0.4 0.4
iFC [A/cm2]

0.2 0.2

0 0
20 20
PSC [kW]

0 0

−20 −20
100 100

50 Lower Limit Lower Limit 50

0 0
50 100 150 200 250 800 900 1000 1100 1200
time [s] time [s]

Fig. 17: Dynamometer measurements (a) and (b) vehicle, (c) total DC power, (d) net fuel cell power, (e) fuel cell voltage, (f) fuel cell current density,
(g) supercapacitor power, (h) supercapacitor state-of.charge SOC


Financial support by the Swiss Federal Energy Office and

by AMAG Schweiz AG is gratefully acknowledged.


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